Tuesday, 12/6/22

It’s been awfully long since I flushed the pipes.

Politicalish

A not-so-great realignment

Alex Jones: The Nazis were thugs.
Kanye West: "But they did good things too. We gotta stop dissing the Nazis all the time."

@Rightwingwatch

So “Ye” is now to the right of Alex Jones?!

Viktor ticks me off

I know that Viktor Orbán isn’t running a liberal democracy. He says it’s an illiberal democracy. “If I could count on American post-liberals being as competent and honest as Orbán,” I thought, “I could tolerate illiberal democracy, even though it wouldn’t be my first choice.”

But now he’s pulled a stunt that bothers me even more than some of the other ways he’s manipulated things to keep winning elections:

In December 2020, when Hungary’s health authority set up a website for citizens to register for covid-19 vaccinations, it included a tick-box for those who wanted to receive further information. Gabor Toka, a political-science professor, found it odd that the box did not specify that future communications should be about covid. To see what would happen, he ticked the box for his own registration but left it unticked for his mother’s. Some months later, when Hungary’s general-election campaign swung into gear, he found that he (but not his mother) started to get campaign emails from the ruling party, Fidesz.

Mr Toka was not the only one. A report published on December 1st by Human Rights Watch suggests that Fidesz seems to have gained access to state databases and used them to send campaign messages to voters. In addition to emails, people got phone calls and text messages from Fidesz candidates urging them to vote and reminding them what a wonderful job the government was doing.

How Hungary used citizens’ covid data to help the ruling party (The Economist)

Thesis Statement

I was just reminded of the excellent capacity of Readwise to share a quote as an eye-grabbing image. Expect to see more.

What authoritarianism does to decent people

Yesterday a friend messaged me to say that one passage from Monday’s newsletter had rung his bell. It had to do with motives. Perhaps some conservatives who’ve moved away from right-wing policies during the Trump era have done so, I wrote, because they’ve begun to doubt the good intentions of leaders who support those policies.

If the average Republican says the law should be harder on drug dealers, you and I might eagerly agree. If an aspiring strongman in the mold of Rodrigo Duterte says the same thing, you and I might worry instead about how a more draconian legal regime would eventually be abused.

Authoritarianism brings out the libertarian in decent people.

All it took was a bare assertion without credible evidence that the election had been rigged against a right-wing president to flip Stewart Rhodes from freedom warrior to fascist goon.

Nick Cattagio

This is a remarkably thought-provoking piece. One more excerpt:

Years ago a fellow Never Trumper told me the great irony of the Tea Party era is that those of us who were viewed at the time as moderates and “RINOs” turned out to be the ones who took conservative principles seriously. We the squishes were told that conservatism was about X, Y, and Z, then suddenly Trump arrived and it wasn’t about those things anymore. So we left.

It was the firebreathing hyper-principled “true conservatives” and small-government radicals who were easily co-opted by a nationalist strongman. They simply adapted and carried on.

I’ve always taken pride in that. But it also feeds my insecurity that on a fundamental level I don’t understand how most people practice politics. I can cite chapter and verse on What Classical Liberalism means, but if 90 percent of those who used to—and maybe still—call themselves classical liberals are okay with an authoritarian personality cult so long as it’s advancing their interests by owning the libs, then how “real” is classical liberalism really?

Legalish

Balancing negative externalities

Free Speech

We still enjoy free speech in the U.S. partly because good people are willing to “sue the bastards” when the bastards try to punish or chill free speech. Eugene Volokh and F.I.R.E., for instance, are suing New York State (New York State Wants to Conscript Me to Violate the Constitution)

One reason why I’m not a Ron DeSantis fan is that his popular (for the GOP’s Florida base, at least) “Stop Woke Act” also violates free speech norms of not the letter of the 1st Amendment (which I think it probably does; caveat: I haven’t thought about that a lot.).

Getting the Analogy Right

SCOTUS heard arguments Monday on another case that people will incline to call gay rights versus religious freedom, though it was argued on free speech grounds. As is so often the case, the questions from the Justices were probing.

Remarkably, a non-lawyer comment aptly summarizes a key point:

[T]he right analogy is crucial here, and correct distinctions are critical. In order to justify racial violence and oppression, white people in America and Europe essentially invented a novel theology, baptizing white supremacy. It was racism in search of an ethic. Sexual ethics, by contrast, are named and addressed in religious scriptures in specific terms. Unlike white supremacy, religious teachings regarding sex, including prohibitions on extramarital and premarital sex, pornography, lust and same-sex sexual activity have been part of the Christian faith from its earliest days. This is not an aberrant view rooted in bigotry but a sincere belief that flows from ancient texts and teaching shared by believers all over the world.

Tish Harrison Warren, When gay rights clash with religious freedom

Culture

What I wouldn’t do if I had #1 billion

If you had $1 billion, what would you do with your life?

How about $190 billion?

The difference between those two seems academic to a middle-class schlub like me, as there’s not a lot one can do with $190 billion that one can’t do with $1 billion. Although if one of your highest ambitions is to make social media safe again for chuds with Pepe avatars, I suppose the distinction is meaningful.

I can tell you what I wouldn’t be doing if my net worth surged to 10 figures. I wouldn’t be spending much time online.

And to the extent that I did, I wouldn’t be using it to sh-tpost.

Nick Cattogio, Kanye. Elon. Trump. (The Dispatch).

Academics and Intellectuals

An academic or a scholar is a specialist in one area of knowledge, whereas an intellectual is a “specialist in generalizations.” That’s a line from one of my intellectual heroes, the sociologist Daniel Bell, and I love it because it’s so delightfully paradoxical. An intellectual is someone who isn’t necessarily a specialist in anything but who reads widely in many subjects and grasps enough of the important aspects of specialized knowledge to render illuminating generalizations about lots of topics.

Another way to put it is to say that an intellectual is a bit of a dilettante or an amateur. I know a little bit about a lot of subjects, and I use that little bit of knowledge to try and understand what’s going on around me in an informed way. But I’m not a specialist in anything—not even the intellectual history and political theory I studied in graduate school, because I finished my studies 24 years ago and haven’t kept up with the latest scholarship.

Damon Linker, Ask Me Anything

This was an interesting installment from Linker, who also deftly fielded this final question:

I would love to get your opinion on what you think Ben Shapiro is up to. He seems to want to be both a conservative intellectual and a purveyor of sensationalist clickbait. And he seems to get a pass from most of the responsible conservative media.

Ben Shapiro interacts with and retweets me from time to time on Twitter. I suspect if you asked him, he’d say I’m one of the few sane and honest liberals around. Because of that, I don’t want to be mean to him here. But I will say that my view of him is precisely the one you sketch in your question. He’s obviously very smart, and the kind of conservatism (in policy terms) that he pushes is continuous with the Reagan-Bush 43 era. That’s not my thing these days, but it once was, and I respect smart people who advocate for those views, even today.

But in style, Shapiro is very much a child of Breitbart—and he appears not to recognize how corrosive that approach to engaging in politics ends up being for the very things he cares most about. If you spend all your days treating the opposition as evil and highlighting only the worst, most ridiculous arguments they make, you’re going to produce an audience that thinks the opposition is evil, stupid, and a threat to the country. And that might get members of this audience to elect someone who views the opposition with so much contempt that acting to overturn an election seems preferable to letting that opposition take power.

So I’d say Shapiro should spend some time re-watching episodes of the old William F. Buckley, Jr. Firing Line and remind himself of a better way—a way that seeks to elevate one’s own side rather than merely denigrate and demonize the other side. (Though it’s also true that this “better way” would probably generate considerably less revenue for The Daily Wire.)

Jesse Jackson’s long-lost daughter?

Nellie Bowles’ crap detector failed her as she joined the world-wide mimetic soccer-flop about British Royal racism.

I didn’t think the exchange was very racist, but one reader knew some detailed backstory that casts it as even more benign:

Nellie, I think you need to do some more digging into the supposedly racist godmother of Prince William, Lady Susan Hussey. When someone shows up at a charity event in African garb and an African name on their nametag, it is neither racist nor offensive to ask about their birthplace.

When the querent is 83 years old, you answer the intent of her question politely: "I don’t know where in Africa my ancestors came from, because they were brought to the Caribbean as slaves, but I myself was born in London."

Considering that Ngozi Fulani has made a career of race hustling, including accusing the Windsors of committing domestic violence against Meghan Markle, I can’t take her obnoxious failure to communicate with an elderly lady as anything but an effort to make trouble.

Race hucksters live on, in Britain, too.

Liberal, but uncivilized

In the era of populism there is a lively debate about when a democracy ceases to be liberal. But the advance of euthanasia presents a different question: What if a society remains liberal but ceases to be civilized?

The rules of civilization necessarily include gray areas. It is not barbaric for the law to acknowledge hard choices in end-of-life care, about when to withdraw life support or how aggressively to manage agonizing pain.

It is barbaric, however, to establish a bureaucratic system that offers death as a reliable treatment for suffering and enlists the healing profession in delivering this “cure.” And while there may be worse evils ahead, this isn’t a slippery slope argument: When 10,000 people are availing themselves of your euthanasia system every year, you have already entered the dystopia.

Ross Douthat

SBF, barbarian

I think, if you wrote a book, you fucked up, and it should have been a six-paragraph blog post.

Sam Bankman-Friedman, to writer Adam Friedman. (H/T L. M. Sacasas)

I hesitate to defend “SBF,” but I have read, or at least started to read, books that could, and perhaps should, have been a six-paragraph blog post. (Smarter people than me, though, aver that though one might convey the “facts” in six paragraphs, the nuances might warrant a full book.)

YouTube TV

I tried YouTube TV for about 15 hours, most of which I spent sleeping, singing, or otherwise not watching it. The low-definition images were annoying. That one must get in bed with Google again is really annoying. Trial ended.

Now maybe I need to figure out how to DVR late sports events on standard cable.

Just sayin’

If a team is going to beat a complete team with a lot of complemetary contributors like Purdue boasts, they’re going to have to catch the Boilermakers on the off-est of off days.

Garrett Shearman, Hammer and Nails, December 4.

Trumpish

A Bad Trip

Napoleon Bonaparte was born on the island of Corsica in 1769, rose to become a French military commander and emperor, and died on the island of Saint Helena in 1821. If I encounter a person on the street in Philadelphia in early December 2022 who insists he is this same Napoleon Bonaparte, I will be quite certain he is wrong about this, which means he is either lying or truly believes it and is insane.

How do I know this? Because I know history. Because I know when the actual Napoleon lived and died. Because I live in a social (intersubjective) world in which widely trusted cultural authorities will vouch for these truths.

But what if other people on the street believe this man and respond to his claim as if what he says about himself is true? What if another set of “experts” emerges to proclaim that, actually, this man is correct? And what if this is followed by the belief spreading further and large numbers of people throughout the country coming to believe it? Before long, newspaper headlines and cable news chyrons scream, “Napoleon Bonaparte Alive and Well in Philadelphia,” as I stand back and observe the spectacle in disbelief and mounting horror.

At what point does this man become sane and I become the madman?

This is a post about a feeling. And the feeling isn’t one in which the whole world, except for you, flips from affirming X to affirming not-X. It’s about the feeling of living in a world in which some of the people—not all of them, but also not just one or a small handful—begin to affirm an alternative reality from within our still-shared world. I’m convinced the emergence and widespread use of the word “gaslighting” during the Trump presidency was an effort to name this feeling of our social world being invaded by elements of psychosis. That feeling repeatedly surged while Trump was in office, and it reached a peak on January 6, when the madness actually burst into physical reality and briefly tried to remake the concrete political world in its image.

Damon Linker, The Week America’s Collective Bad Trip Resumed

The Red-letter Day that fizzled

This ought to be a red-letter day:

Donald Trump called for the “termination” of America’s constitution, in service to the lie that he won the presidential election of 2020. On his own social-media network he said that revoking “all rules” might be necessary to reinstall himself in the White House (notwithstanding his new electoral campaign).

The Economist Daily Briefing for December 4.

I don’t know why I bother clipping these. He called for ignoring the freakin’ constitution and all it has gotten from GOP leaders is disapproving murmurs.

I guess it befalls me and those like me who do not covet public office to keep beating the drum: this man is not fit for Dog-Catcher.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Late Sunday fare

Bad Tipy! Bad bad Tipsy! I should have posted this about 10 hours ago.

Faith versus Ideology

She came from rough people but she had a natural love for poetry, history, and politics. She wasn’t ideological—ardent Catholics don’t need an ideology, they’ve already got the essential facts.

Peggy Noonan’s Thanksgiving Day reminiscence.

The tainting of Christian (perhaps others, too) faith with ideology seems to be a persistent risk, even if Peggy Noonan’s great-aunt escaped it. The relationship between religion and ideology is one I’ve been pondering for around 25 years now, and I’m not certain I’m any closer to an answer I can articulate. If only I were a fiction writer, maybe I could put it in a story! (I’ll bet others have.)

Not even half-converted

There is no point in converting people to Christ if they do not convert their vision of the world and of life, since Christ then becomes merely a symbol for all that we love and want already –without Him. This kind of Christianity is more terrifying than agnosticism or hedonism.

The Journals of Father Alexander Schmemann (quoted elsewhere).

This is more or less what I always thought St. Paul had in mind in Romans 12:1-2.

Amuse-bouche

A couple years ago, my daughters and I found an online recipe for a raspberry swirl pound cake. Wishing to surprise my wife, we decided to bake one for her. We failed miserably. The inedible monstrosity that emerged from the oven bore no resemblance whatsoever to the cake photographed on the recipe’s webpage. What went wrong? After all, I found a recipe that was profitable for instruction on how to bake the cake in order that I would be complete and thoroughly prepared for this good work.

As sufficient as the recipe was, I had very little experience with baking, and no one with the necessary experience was around to guide me so that I would be able to apply these instructions correctly.

Dr. Amir Azarvan, How to Test the Protestant Doctrine of Sola Scriptura

Reading a different critique of sola scriptura was an eye-opener on my unexpected journey to Orthodox Christianity a quarter-century ago. But I found in this short piece several more very good points — beyond this appetite-whetter — points that make it worth reading even though it is not very well-written.

On my wish list

His Grace has taken theology … out of the[] hands of sterile systematic dogmaticians, and returned it to its proper artistic home. And as Mr. Gleason noted about the music of his day, this also “has begged to be done for generations”. This book is a work of theological art.

By “art” I mean the work of those who see a vision of beauty, truth, and insight, who are filled with wonder at what they have experienced, and who strive to communicate it to others.

Father Lawrence Farley, on Wonder as the Beginning of Faith by Bishop Maxim Vasiljevic.

You better believe it’s on my wish-list.

“Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
"Look!" and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.”

Mary Oliver

Wordplay

Thought and speech I used
as weapons.  My words are now
judges at my trial

To teach us union
and separation: this is
what bodies are for

Joshua Alen Sturgill, Eighteen Death Haiku


“The Hubriscene Age.” Substacker Caroline Ross’s characterization of our times.


We must believe in free will—we have no choice.

Isaac Singer via the Economist


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

To believe that wealth is the only significant measure of the worth of an individual, a family, or a community is to reject the teaching of nearly every religion and wisdom tradition that ever was.

Mark Mitchell and Nathan Schlueter, The Humane Vision of Wendell Berry

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

We’ve Been Lucky Day

We’ve Been Lucky Day

What we are experiencing isn’t truly thankfulness, but only something like delight over good fortune. In this case, I wonder why we even call it thankfulness. Perhaps we should be celebrating a Gee We’ve Been Lucky Day, or, if times have been hard, maybe an It Could Have Been Worse Day. If a shorter name is needed, we could call it Okayness Day. I guess it would be something like Happy Hour.

J Budziszewski, wrested from context (i.e., this is not his position)

Eulogy — Mike Gerson

It’s nice to read Peter Wehner writing a eulogy instead of invective, however deserved.

Excerpts:

Mike [Gerson] was appalled at those who disfigured Jesus and used their faith for the purposes of dehumanization. It is one of the reasons why he was so thankful to publish an extraordinary essay in the Post before his death, lamenting Christians whose view of politics “is closer to ‘Game of Thrones’ than to the Beatitudes.”

Very few people knew the full scope of the health challenges Mike faced. He suffered a heart attack in 2004, when he was 40. Kidney cancer in 2013. Debilitating leg pain, probably the result of surgical nerve damage. The kidney cancer spread to his lungs. Then Parkinson’s disease and metastatic adrenal cancer. And finally, metastatic bone cancer in multiple locations, intensely painful. At one point he told me he was on 20 different medications. Mike and I joked that of all the figures in the Bible he could model himself after, he chose Job.

I am among those who had no idea of Gerson’s health problems. I admired his opinion pieces, but not quite enough to keep my Washington Post digital subscription.

Buying off the bloodhounds

[Y]ou don’t have to have a granular understanding of blockchain to understand [Sam Bankman-Fried] was a fraud. I think there are a lot of reasons he got away with it for as long as he did. Buying political cover from politicians with donations (Bankman-Fried was the Dems’ second biggest donor in the last cycle) and purchasing political cover from the media with woke gobbledygook about philanthropy is not a bad strategy. Also, hiding your malfeasance in the squid ink of technical jargon few people understand is pretty savvy as well.

But I think he had something else going for him. Democrats and the left love having billionaires in their corner. It’s a great way to blunt charges of “Marxism” and whatnot, and it’s also a fun way to advance the argument that there’s no real tension between progressive policies and profit. Having token billionaires is even better when those billionaires seem like they’ve broken the old paradigms of heavy industry and are on the cutting edge of innovation. Having dinosaurs who made their money the old-fashioned way—especially the ones who made their money from liquified dinosaurs—can trigger psychological or ideological second thoughts. Peddling ones-and-zeros just sounds so cutting edge.

One lesson from this is that new ideas and new technologies—not to mention getting rich off them—can blind you to the importance of due diligence. Say what you will about old-fashioned accountants and lawyers from prestigious firms—they at least have a vested interest in protecting their reputations and brands. Thinking that the rules of the past don’t apply to you is a great way to give yourself permission to break rules that definitely do apply to you.

Jonah Goldberg

I’d rather drink muddy water

My least-favorite series in the New York Times travel section is “36 Hours in [major city].” I would not enjoy dashing around and bar-hopping at night as they invariably describe.

Let me settle into a city for a bit, and give me time to catch my breath without liquor.

Is Orbán a Cosplayer?

There has always been a whiff of the fake about Mr. Orbán’s war on Brussels. That he never proposed the obvious solution to this impasse—Hungary’s exit from the European Union—exposed the limit of his gamesmanship. More fool the American conservatives who didn’t notice this sooner.

Joseph C. Sternberg, Orbán and the Collapse of the Trump Intellectuals

I don’t fully agree with Sternberg, but I welcome his pushback against Orbán if only because it doesn’t follow the usual script of name-calling and “everybody knows.”

Epistemic humility

Appealing to a higher, theological standard of judgment above politics can, in theory, act as a moderating influence that inspires humility, restraint, and even wisdom. But it often does the opposite—inspiring imprudent acts and judgments …

Of course, the religiously devout aren’t the only people who are prone to act in a way that fails to exemplify the spirit of liberality or civic generosity …

Liberalism is better off when these tendencies are tamed. The best way to accomplish that goal is to rely on civic education that instills lessons in epistemic humility and mutual respect for fellow citizens. But of course, such education will only receive political support if our fellow Americans already want to produce humble and respectful citizens in the first place.

Damon Linker, The Endless Skirmish Between Liberalism and Religion

I have a nit-picky disagreement with Linker. I doubt that we can maintain liberalism at all without the epistemic humility he commends, not just that “liberalism is better off when these tendencies are tamed.” Indeed, liberalism almost seems definitionally a polity of epistemic humility, a recognition that the other guy just might be right, and therefore can be worth close attention.

Florida Man and the Pro-life cause

The ethos of the Trumpist-dominated G.O.P. is fundamentally incompatible with the ethos of a healthy pro-life movement. The reason is simple: Trumpism is centered around animosity. The pro-life movement has to be centered around love, including love for its most bitter political opponents.

David French, The Pro-Life Movement Has to Break With Trumpism

An honest, full-cost accounting

[W]e need to replace fanciful dreams of endless energy from renewables with full-cost accounting, which an increasing number of experts are taking seriously. There are destructive environmental and social consequences to constructing the infrastructure for that energy production.

Wes Jackson and Robert Jensen, No Easy Answers: Facing Ecological Crises Honestly

I often post controversial or negative things with no comment. Not this time. I believe that Jackson and Jensen are right.

If wishes were horses …

[M]y friends at National Review plead[] with Republican hopefuls to clear the field for a Trump-DeSantis showdown.

That’s the right strategy if you’re a conservative whose goal is to maximize the GOP’s chances of nominating a superior candidate, but it’s eye-roll material if you’re an ambitious Republican politician who looks in the mirror and sees a president staring back.

That’s a great irony of the next cycle, incidentally. As selfish as Trump is in routinely placing his own interests above the GOP’s, the Chris Christies and Nikki Haleys who’ll end up piling into the 2024 field and splintering the anti-Trump vote will be guilty of having done the same.

Nick Cattogio, Trump Is About to Wreck His Legacy

Respect for Marriage Act

Yet the gains here are not negligible, either, and what is lost is—well, the answer to that depends on how realistic it is to think that Obergefell will be overturned within the next 10 years.

Matthew Lee Anderson, regarding the Respect for Marriage Act, quoted at The Dispatch (italics added)

I don’t think there’s a significant chance that Obergefell gets overruled for a long time. (Eventually, it probably will be overruled because it’s contrary to the nature of marriage and came about through an ideological mania. We’ll come to our senses eventually.) So, we (those concerned to preserve religious liberty) are getting something for essentially nothing.

Sounds like a presumptively good deal. Tell me how I’m wrong.

David French endorses RFMA, and has caught a lot of crap for it. Even Kristen Waggoner has misrepresented RFMA, but she’s now head of ADF, which may explain her factual flexibility.

Have I mentioned lately that my pen always totally dries up if I think of writing a check to ADF, but always works just fine for checks to Becket Fund?


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Public Affairs, 11/19/22

I’ve been on a bit of a roll lately, blogging daily. That’s not a goal, but I’ve just stumbled into it.

I’m going to try to separate any blogging about Florida Man into separate posts. If we are lucky, he’ll continue fading from memory and relevance anyway. Today is not a day when I write about him.

My (Other) Man Mitch

I’ve long been an admirer of outgoing Purdue President Mitch Daniels, who adopted Dubya’s praise of “my man Mitch” and made it his own when he ran for Governor of Indiana.

But I also respect the heck out of Mitch McConnell, and am pleased that Senate Republicans spared no time re-electing him as their leader over a Trumpier challenger.

McConnell is shrewd, stable, and flexible. He cooperated with Trump a lot without becoming a sycophant. He also criticized Trump without becoming an unhinged never-Trumper, and that even in the face of Trump’s racist attacks on his asian wife. He carefully assesses electability when parsing out dollars to candidates from funds he effectively controls, and I have little doubt that the Republicans would have a majority in the Senate come January if primary voters had picked his preferred candidates over Trump’s parade of grotesques.

In other words, he’s a grown-up in a city of petulant, limelight-seeking adolescent Republicans and soccer-flopping progressives.

Democrats like to demonize McConnell as Republicans demonize Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, but we’d put an end to the “do-nothing Congress” if we had more Senators and Representatives of his temperament and experience.

What does he know, anyway?

Reacting to an uncommonly silly pronouncement from Peter Thiel:

Wait. What? The three options for the liberal democracies of Western Europe are Sharia law, “Chinese communist AI,” and some kind of green energy state? And there are “no other doors?” The only thing that separates that comment from a light-night, weed-infused dorm room bull session is his few billion dollars. That’s the person who should reshape the GOP? 

I’ve come to your inbox less to condemn the gurus (though people who commit fraud should pay the price), but to ask a different question. Why do we fall for them time and again?

I’m not someone who tells celebrities to “shut up and sing” or athletes to “shut up and dribble.” And I’d never tell Elon Musk to “shut up and get to Mars” or tell Peter Thiel, “shut up and facilitate cashless transactions.” I like the marketplace of ideas. I’m open to interesting thoughts from unlikely sources. 

But I object to the presumption of insight from famous or successful people. I object to the hero worship (or greed) I’ve seen with my own eyes, where sycophants and fans won’t tell the wealthy and famous obvious truths because they hope to bask in their reflected glory or benefit from their largesse.

David French, America, Can We Talk About Our Guru Problem?

It used to be stars and starlots on whose every oracular word we waited. Now it’s billionaires, more than one of whose bubbles could turn them into mere millionaires by tomorrow.

Blake Masters

Speaking of Peter Thiel, the George Soros of the Right (and neither of those two is as dumb or evil as their detractors think), one of his boys, Blake Masters, lost in Arizona.

I don’t need to have, and don’t have, an overall impression of Masters. But I’ve got some litmus tests and one of them is “if a candidate quotes the late Sam Francis without caveats, don’t vote for him.”

Francis was brilliant, atheist, and deeply racist. I appreciated his brilliance until his racism became undeniable, and it is why he should be “consigned to the dustbin of history.”

Federalist Society at a Crossroad

Peter Cannelos thinks the Federalist Society was all about reversing Roe v. Wade and is adrift now. (“You get your white whale and what do you do? What’s the next thing?”)

“Not so fast,” say David French and Sarah Isgur on Thursday’s Advisory Opinions podcast. That was never the purpose of the Society and its actual purpose remains vital. The real question is whether the Society will stand by its principles when populist Republicans, not liberals or progressives, are the ones trampling on the Constitution, as the Society has become closely identified with the GOP and the GOP has become performatively populist at the state level in particular.

David and Sarah seem to think FedSoc will stand by its principles initially, but that losing its “conservative” friends when it does so will intensify long-term pressure to forsake principle for politics. It’s the nature of those long-term pressures that make Cannelos’s piece worth reading. And he’s not necessarily wrong that abortion is what FedSoc was about in public impression.

Begin listening at 46:33.

EA

Although SBF and the collapse of FTX have cast a pall over EA, that’s unwarranted.

(If you find the prior paragraph undecipherable, congratulations: you’re more immune to ephemera than I am.)

We really should think about how much our charitable giving actually helps, not about how virtuous it makes us feel. That doesn’t mean we all should suddenly start giving only to deploy mosquito nets against malaria, but:

Aw, heck! I wrote most of the preceding before Ross Douthat weighed in. He touched on some of the same themes but added other good stuff. This link is supposed to get you through the New York Times paywall to read his take.

Michael Gerson, RIP

Still, Gerson deserves high marks for his criticism of Donald Trump and, above all, for his readiness to call out fellow evangelicals for their abject obeisance. The day after the assault on the Capitol, he wrote a column holding them more responsible than anyone else for “unleashing insurrectionists and domestic terrorists.”

I come back to this group repeatedly, not only because I share an evangelical background and resent those who dishonor it, but because the overwhelming support of evangelicals is the single largest reason that Trump possesses power in the first place. It was their malignant approach to politics that forced our country into its current nightmare. As white nationalists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists, anarchists, criminals and terrorists took hold of the Republican Party, many evangelicals blessed it under the banner “Jesus Saves.”

Nor did he hesitate to name names: Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell Jr., Robert Jeffress, Ralph Reed, Penny Nance.

Mark Silk, Two cheers for Michael Gerson

Gerson’s reasons for coming back to evangelicals in the Trumposene were closely akin to my reasons.

For what it’s worth, I don’t share Silk’s condemnation of him for his role in selling the Iraq war. I voted for Bush’s “humbler foreign policy” in 2000, but I understood on 9/11 that the pressure for a strong military response against someone-or-other was going to prevail, and better people than I backed it at the time. I don’t think I ever supported the war (God forgive me if I did), but relentless resistance was futile.

Remembering our collective sins

He asked me if I had been to Auschwitz, in Poland. I hadn’t. “Don’t go there,” he said, shaking his head. “People are all with their phones. It should be prevented. And they go”—he raised his hand a few feet from his face and looked at his palm, emulating someone taking a selfie—“ ‘Me in front of the crematorium.’ ‘Me in front of the ramp.’ I mean, it’s so obscene.”

In the United States there are 41 million Black people; we make up 12.5 percent of the population. In Germany, there are approximately 120,000 Jewish people, out of a population of more than 80 million. They represent less than a quarter of 1 percent of the population. More Jewish people live in Boston than in all of Germany. (Today, many Jews in Germany are immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their descendants.) Lots of Germans do not personally know a Jewish person.

This is part of the reason, Steiner believes, that Germany is able to make Holocaust remembrance a prominent part of national life; Jewish people are a historical abstraction more than they are actual people. In the United States, there are still millions of Black people. You cannot simply build some monuments, lay down some wreaths each year, and apologize for what happened without seeing the manifestation of those past actions in the inequality between Black and white people all around you.

Steiner also believes that the small number of Jewish people who do reside in Germany exist in the collective imagination less as people, and more as empty canvases upon which Germans can paint their repentance.

Clint Smith, How Germany Remembers the Holocaust

The story was so long that I almost didn’t read it, despite some trusted person’s recommendation. I’m glad I did. It brought tears to my eyes in places.

The explicit challenge is “how will America remember its sins?”, but that feels like an afterthought, to add a touch of “relevance,” and few answers are suggested.

Superwoman

“I would just like to announce that I am in my third trimester and I am an absolute powerhouse that can create human life. I can do ANYTHING … except sit or stand or lie down or recline,” – Mary Katharine Ham. (Via Andrew Sullivan).

New Category!

Today, I’m introducing a new category, “soccer-flopping.” All honor to David French for introducing me to the metaphor. The bad news is that “grievance mongering” may fall into disuse


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Thursday, 11/17/22

Embodied Perception

To emphasize the role that our bodies play in determining how we inhabit and therefore perceive the world, and to entertain the notion of cognitive extension, is to put oneself on a collision course with the central tenets of the official anthropology of the West. As we have already noted, embodied perception poses a direct challenge to the idea that representation is the fundamental mental process by which we apprehend the world.

Matthew Crawford, The World Beyond Your Head

I think Crawford calls this “the official anthropology of the West” because of our fetish that everyone must go to college to encounter more representations of the world, less actual world.

Long-term readers may justly suspect that, in my behavior, I am slave to this official anthropology. I tend to prefer reading to getting up and going for a walk or making something with my hands.

An opportunity, not a death knell

Let’s start with what the pro-life pessimists get right. Tuesday’s results confirm the anti-abortion movement’s fundamental disadvantages: While Americans are conflicted about abortion, a majority is more pro-choice than pro-life, the pro-choice side owns almost all the important cultural megaphones, and voters generally dislike sudden unsettlements of social issues.

You can strategize around these problems to some extent, contrasting incremental protections for the unborn with the left’s pro-choice absolutism. But when you’re the side seeking a change in settled arrangements, voters may still choose the absolutism they know over the uncertainty of where pro-life zeal might take them.

However, when abortion wasn’t directly on the ballot, many of those same voters showed no inclination to punish politicians who backed abortion restrictions. Any pro-choice swing to the Democrats was probably a matter of a couple of points in the overall vote for the House of Representatives; meanwhile, Republican governors who signed “heartbeat” legislation in Texas, Georgia and Ohio easily won re-election, and there was no dramatic backlash in red states that now restrict abortion.

In other words, Republicans in 2022 traded a larger margin in the House and maybe a Senate seat or two for a generational goal, the end of Roe v. Wade. And more than that, they demonstrated that many voters who might vote pro-choice on an up-down ballot will also accept, for the time being, pro-life legislation in their states.

For a movement that’s clearly a moral minority, that’s an opportunity, not a death knell ….

Ross Douthat

FTX

I have generally avoided getting into discussions about cryptocurrencies, because I am a perennial late-adopter who never understands how the big new thing is supposed to work or why anyone would even be interested in it. Aware of that bias, the fact that crypto always struck me as an elaborate Ponzi scheme wasn’t quite enough for me to be sure that it was an elaborate Ponzi scheme. Besides, even if I was sure, that wouldn’t be reason enough to confidently predict collapse; flim-flam operations sometimes get bought by companies with real businesses—or may even monetize their hype into real currency that they use to buy real companies—and thereby achieve something like an enduring presence in the business landscape that they might not have been able to achieve on their own merits.

So what interests me primarily about the collapse of FTX is this business could ever have been idealized. The premise behind FTX is that, even though nobody is totally sure what crypto is ultimately good for, people love to trade it, and to concoct ever more elaborate schemes for leveraging waves of investor enthusiasm.

Noah Millman

Priorities

My wife and I had a conversation one day with a pleasant couple who were much younger, and much more prosperous, than we were.  Husband and wife were both high-dollar attorneys.  She expressed strong frustration because the kids were in day care, but she wanted to stay with them herself.  “Why don’t you?” we asked.  They answered that they had expenses.  “Like what?” we asked.  Well, they had to keep up the payments on their big, expensive boat and their big, expensive house on the lake.

The difference between her facial expression and his were intriguing.  She became nervous.  He became alarmed.  There was some history here, and he didn’t want his wife going down this road.  She didn’t want to displease him.  We changed the subject.

To one degree or another, almost all husbands and wives divide labor, and they are generally happier doing so.  Obviously, not all women desire an exclusively domestic life, and there is nothing wrong with that.  But there is a great deal wrong with the fact that we force women to act against their domestic inclinations for reasons that have nothing to do with their fulfillment.  We call it being liberated, but it is really about serving the interests of men — and economic managers.

J Budziszewski I have seen another variation on this: high-earners who “can’t afford” to pay the tuition they agreed for private Christian education.

Letting the cat out of the bag

It is important that we start on time. We are training our children for the work force.

Remark from the school on a first-grader’s report card, via Jonathan Malesic, When Work and Meaning Part Ways

There’s another cat in the bag, too. We’re training our children in a second role of consumers. A hyperbolic account:

[S]trange to think that even in Our Ford’s day most games were played without more apparatus than a ball or two and a few sticks and perhaps a bit of netting. Imagine the folly of allowing people to play elaborate games which do nothing whatever to increase consumption. It’s madness. Nowadays the Controllers won’t approve of any new game unless it can be shown that it requires at least as much apparatus as the most complicated of existing games.

Aldous Huxley, Brave New World.

This is one of the reasons I think Huxley far surpasses Orwell as a prophet of dystopia (although I’m pretty sure I had no opinion either way before the year 1984.)

Things they told you that weren’t, now that you think about it, true.

On a note related to the preceding item, this:

The transformation of work into a spiritual enterprise, the site of our highest aspirations—to transcend ourselves, to encounter a higher reality, to serve others—is the work ethic’s cruelest unfulfilled promise.

Jonathan Malesic, When Work and Meaning Part Ways

Speaking of truth, the Wall Street Journal’s Pepper & Salt cartoon is one of few cartoons I view regularly. Wednesday’s gave me a rueful chuckle:

Guilty and unashamed

Caffeine is so widely used and normalised that we don’t think of it as a drug or notice how it alters our minds. Research into its effects is often hampered by the difficulty of finding people who aren’t already dependent on it.

Sophie McBain, The psychoactive plants that change our consciousness, reviewing Michael Pollan, This is Your Mind on Plants.

A Hoosier teetotaler on the Isle of Islay

I opened my first-ever bottle of Laphroaig, “the most richly flavoured of all Scotch whiskies,” Monday night, as nightcap and to usher in the Nativity Fast that began Tuesday (a sort of personal “fat Monday”).

Wow! Now I think I know what Cutty Sark was trying to do when it produced a liquor that tasted like Listerine. In fact, that’s what the smell of Laphroaig reminded me of. Mercifully, the taste is not Cutty Sark.

Laphroaig is to every other scotch I’ve had as Dogfish Head 120 minute IPA is to Bud Light. It’s more — much more — but not just more. It’s different, too. From the label, that difference may be peat and smoke, but I’m forever hearing scotch afficianados talk about “peatiness,” so maybe I’m way off base. My palate and liquor vocabulary reflect my teetotaler roots.

Truth be told, I’m not sure how well I really like it. I’m not exactly alone. It was a shock. But I’ll know by the end of the bottle in a few months.

My last two items are about someone I hate even to name. Skip them if you like.

Trumpism without Trump?

Trumpism can survive without Mr. Trump.

Peter Wehner, Never-Trumper from the early days.

Isolating this phrase, I could hope that we get “Trumpism without Trump,” but that totally depends what one means by that phrase.

I could, and probably would, endorse the GOP continuing toward making itself the party of working-class middle-Americans of all races. Highlighting their plight is one of the (few, but consequential) good things Trump did.

Wehner, though, means by “Trumpism without Trump” a GOP that is malicious, dishonest and destructive. No thanks.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

It’s about time

Jonathan H. Adler, Trump Lawyers Sanctioned for Frivolous Lawsuit Against Political Opponents

There’s apparently no deterring Trump, but maybe his legal prostitutes (that’s what I consider lawyers who file frivolous lawsuits just because a client is willing to pay them to do so) can be deterred.

Happy Birthday to Me

Social Media, Crypto, and such

Trump, Musk, Ye

When Jaron Lanier writes, I read:

I encountered Donald Trump a few times in the pre-social-media era, and he struck me as someone who was in on his own joke. He no longer does. Elon Musk used to be a serious person more concerned with engineering and building businesses than with petty name-calling. He didn’t seem like the kind of person to amplify a preposterous, sordid story about Paul Pelosi. Kanye West was once a thoughtful artist. Now known as Ye, he radiates antisemitism on top of his earlier slavery denialism.

I have observed a change, or really a narrowing, in the public behavior of people who use Twitter or other social media a lot. (“Other social media” sometimes coming into play after ejection from Twitter.) When I compare Mr. Musk, Mr. Trump and Ye, I see a convergence of personalities that were once distinct. The garish celebrity playboy, the obsessive engineer and the young artist, as different from one another as they could be, have all veered not in the direction of becoming grumpy old men, but into being bratty little boys on a schoolyard. Maybe we should look at what social media has done to these men.

I believe “Twitter poisoning” is a real thing. It is a side effect that appears when people are acting under an algorithmic system that is designed to engage them to the max. It’s a symptom of being part of a behavior-modification scheme.

The same could be said about any number of other figures, including on the left. Examples are found in the excesses of cancel culture and joyless orthodoxies in fandom, in vain attention competitions and senseless online bullying.

Twitter poisoning is a little like alcoholism or gambling addiction, in that the afflicted lose all sense of proportion about their own powers. They can come to believe they have almost supernatural abilities. Little boys fantasize about energy beams shooting from their fingertips.

Jaron Lanier in the New York Times.

Tulip mania

I started to read a story on Sam Bankman-Fried and the collapse of FTX, his cryptocurrency venture. But I stopped when aI realized that I still don’t understand crypto, which I accordingly never trusted, and that I was reading the story mostly for the schadenfreude.

That I mention this, and allude to tulip mania, shows that I, a sinner, still take pleasure in being vindicated.

… an endless stream of content

Instead of facilitating the modest use of existing connections—largely for offline life (to organize a birthday party, say)—social software turned those connections into a latent broadcast channel. All at once, billions of people saw themselves as celebrities, pundits, and tastemakers. A global broadcast network where anyone can say anything to anyone else as often as possible, and where such people have come to think they deserve such a capacity, or even that withholding it amounts to censorship or suppression—that’s just a terrible idea from the outset. And it’s a terrible idea that is entirely and completely bound up with the concept of social media itself: systems erected and used exclusively to deliver an endless stream of content.

Ian Bogost via The Morning Dispatch

What a waste!

The best minds of my generation are thinking about how to make people click ads. That sucks.

Data scientist Jeff Hammerbacher via Nellie Bowles

Please, God, let Twitter live!

The best argument I’ve heard for praying fervently that Twitter survives is this:

Just FYI if Twitter dies, TGIF goes with it. (Nellie Bowles)

Election 2022

The Democrats’ greatest electoral asset

What will Democrats do when Donald Trump isn’t around to lose elections? We have to wonder because on Tuesday Democrats succeeded again in making the former President a central campaign issue, and Mr. Trump helped them do it.

Trumpy Republican candidates failed at the ballot box in states that were clearly winnable …

Since his unlikely victory in 2016 against the widely disliked Hillary Clinton, Mr. Trump has a perfect record of electoral defeat. The GOP was pounded in the 2018 midterms owing to his low approval rating. Mr. Trump himself lost in 2020. He then sabotaged Georgia’s 2021 runoffs by blaming party leaders for not somehow overturning his defeat. That gave Democrats control of the Senate …

Now Mr. Trump has botched the 2022 elections, and it could hand Democrats the Senate for two more years. Mr. Trump had policy successes as President, including tax cuts and deregulation, but he has led Republicans into one political fiasco after another.

Wall Street Journal Editorial Board, Trump Is the Republican Party’s Biggest Loser

Smartest political money of 2022

The smartest money spent in this whole election was the tens of millions the Democratic party spent to help ensure Republicans picked the craziest candidates in nine different state primaries. It was a risky, cynical move for Dems to boost the most radical Republicans—and it paid off. The most effective (i.e.: dangerous) Republican candidate is someone reasonable like Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin. Trumpist Republicans reject these types as RINOs, and Dems were only too happy to help. 

Americans also rejected the #resistance stars. Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams lost again. And Texas’s Beto O’Rourke lost, again again. Not that it will deter either of them from running for President (certainly not from fundraising at least). TGIF looks forward to the Abrams-O’Rourke ticket in 2024.

Nellie Bowles

Look for the Republicans to copy “back the Dems’ craziest primary candidates” to their own playbook.

A Teachable Moment

An esteemed Tory political figure summed it up succinctly in London in August: “Donald Trump ruined the Republican Party’s brand.”

It will now stick with him or not. It will live free or die.

If, in 2024, Republicans aren’t serious about policy—about what they claim to stand for—they will pick him as their nominee. And warm themselves in the glow of the fire as he goes down in flames. If they’re serious about the things they claim to care about—crime, wokeness, etc.—they’ll choose someone else and likely win.

[Of a Trump rally in Ohio:] What I am seeing is the end of something. I am seeing yesterday. This is a busted jalopy that runs on yesteryear’s resentments. A second term of this would be catastrophic, with him more bitter, less competent, surrounded by collapsed guardrails. He and his people once tried to stop the constitutionally mandated electoral vote certification by violently overrunning the U.S. Capitol. If America lets him back, he will do worse. And America knows.

… All About Me is a losing game, because politics is all about us …

The old saying is there’s no education in the second kick of a mule. This is the third kick, after 2018 and 2020. Maybe they will learn now.

Peggy Noonan

The weakness of our major parties

The election of 2022 marked the moment when America began to put performative populism behind us. Though the results are partial, and Trump acolytes could still help Republicans control Congress, this election we saw the emergence of an anti-Trump majority.

According to a national exit poll, nearly 60 percent of voters said they had an unfavorable view of Trump. Almost half of the voters who said they “somewhat disapprove” of Biden as president still voted for Democrats, presumably because they were not going to vote for Trumpianism.

The telling election results were at the secretary of state level. The America First Secretary of State Coalition features candidates who rejected the 2020 election results and who would have been a threat to election integrity if they had won Tuesday. Most either lost or seem on their way to losing. Meanwhile, Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state of Georgia who stood up to Trump’s bullying, won by a wide margin.

There are two large truths I’ll leave you with. The first is that both parties are fundamentally weak. The Democrats are weak because they have become the party of the educated elite. The Republicans are weak because of Trump. The Republican weakness is easier to expunge. If Republicans get rid of Trump, they could become the dominant party in America. If they don’t, they will decline.

Second, the battle to preserve the liberal world order is fully underway. While populist authoritarianism remains a powerful force worldwide, people, from Kyiv to Kalamazoo, have risen up to push us toward a world in which rules matter, practicality matters, stability and character matter.

David Brooks

This is one of Brooks’ best in a while.

Why Biden should announce his 2024 retirement

By saying he would not run again, Mr Biden would not surrender political leverage so much as enhance his chance to reach at least some deals. And he would make any Republican investigations of him and his family seem like malicious irrelevancies.

Joe Biden should not seek re-election | The Economist

Freddie’s not-so-grand conclusions

  • Trumpism continues to define American politics in many ways. Trumpian candidates appeared to do not great – JD Vance won, but he has a relationship to Trump that’s more complicated than Oedipus’s with Jocasta – but every single Republican Senate candidate had to define him- (or her-, but really him-) self in relationship to Trump. He wasn’t on the ballot, but our country’s political gravity sucks toward him at all times. What’s scary about him is knowing that, for him, nothing else matters – I don’t think he gives a single merciful shit about passing a conservative agenda, so long as people are talking about him. Including – especially – the haters!
  • I think people continue to underestimate the downsides of Trump’s influence on American politics. Yes, he served as president for a term, and just about everyone in politics (if speaking honestly) would say that electing your guy to the presidency is worth any cost. But Trump’s benefits are in some tension – he famously refused to put Social Security or Medicare in harm’s way, defying Paul Ryan’s previous stewardship of the GOP; he made just enough substance-free waves at economic populism and trade protectionism to let some people look past the fact that he’s a lunatic who says wild shit about whatever he wants and appears to barely be holding it together, cognitively. That’s one set of advantages. The other advantage is that he’s a lunatic who says wild shit about whatever he wants and appears to barely be holding it together, cognitively. A lot of Republican primary voters loved him because he would say absolutely whatever it took to most insult his enemies.
  • Finally, I continue to think that the outlook can’t look too rosy for Democrats given a basic question: what happens if an actually-competent populist Republican rises out of the morass of the party? What happens if someone takes Trump’s refusal to threaten SS and Medicare, takes his populist feints, and keeps a little bit of the performative rudeness, but isn’t, you know, absolutely fucking nuts? What if we get a Trump that hasn’t admitted to sexual misconduct on video? What if we get a Trump who doesn’t mock disabled reporters? What if we get a Trump who doesn’t have a mountain of oppos sitting out in the open for any reporter to get a hold of? What happens if, instead, we get a Reaganite figure who preaches a small government gospel while being smart enough to leave entitlements for the elderly alone, can give a speech without telling a thousand lies, and who doesn’t appear seriously cognitively compromised? Hypothetically, that figure could win 40 states. I truly believe that.

Freddie deBoer’s modest post-election analysis. Oddly, Freddie doubts that Ron DeSantis is the hypothetical candidate in his third-quoted excerpt.

Attempted extortion

Ron DeSantis, a Republican, won re-election as governor of Florida by a whopping margin. He is now well placed to run for the presidency in 2024. Donald Trump warned “Mr DeSanctimonious” to stay out of that race, hinting that he might dish up dirt on him if he challenges Mr Trump for the Republican nomination.

True Leadership

The voters have spoken, and they’ve said that they want a different leader. And a true leader understands when they have become a liability.

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears on why she will not support 45 if he tries to become 47.

Groveling businesses

In the Holy Land and Jordan in late-October, I encountered the occasional pay toilet (usually, an attendant outside).

Considering the direction of American business, and even my big-clinic doctor, I’m almost surprised I haven’t gotten texts asking me to “Rate you experience breaking wind in our loo” — with a followup robocall if I don’t take the original bait.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Thursday, 11/10/22

Election 2022

With a little help from their foes

[M]uch of the conversation about the modern Republican Party assumes … that Republican politicians are impossibly bound to the needs and desires of their coalition and unable to resist its demands. Many — too many — political observers speak as if Republican leaders and officials had no choice but to accept Donald Trump into the fold, no choice but to apologize for his every transgression, no choice but to humor his attempt to overturn the result of the 2020 presidential election and now no choice but to embrace election-denying candidates around the country.

But that’s nonsense. For all the pressures of the base, for all the fear of Trump and his gift for ridicule, for all the demands of the donor class, it is also true that at every turn, Republicans in Washington and elsewhere have made an active and affirmative choice to embrace the worst elements of their party — and jettison the norms and values that make democracy work.

Jamelle Bouie, No One Forced Republicans to Do Any of These Things

Nobody forced them, but a sleazy and dangerous Democrat tactic worked:

Democrats’ cynical decisions to boost more extreme Republican primary candidates seem to have paid off last night, as Price reports, with all six of the boosted primary winners losing to Democratic candidates. That’s likely to encourage future Democratic meddling—but operatives say it should also be a wake up call for Republicans supporting extreme candidates.

The Morning Dispatch

Some of these MAGA candidates were so thinly-funded — apart from the boost the Dems cynically gave them — that they were unlikely to win. And in the end (the general election), they didn’t.

For more, see Price St. Clair, Primary Meddling Pays Off for Democrats. Excerpt:

The Democrats meddling in Michigan’s 3rd District generated the most controversy. Incumbent Peter Meijer was one of only 10 Republican House members to vote to impeach Trump in the aftermath of January 6—but he lost his primary to Trump-aligned candidate John Gibbs after the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent $425,000 boosting Gibbs. Pre-election forecasts suggested that the race was likely to end up being the closest of the six “MAGA meddling” races. On Tuesday, Gibbs lost by 8 points to his Democratic opponent Hillary Scholten, who had run an explicitly moderate campaign.

Lashed to the Orange mast as the ship overturns

Mastriano and Lake, meanwhile, successfully navigated their respective primaries by lashing themselves to the former president in essentially every respect. That meant throwing themselves behind stolen-election conspiracy theories, but it also meant disdaining the notion that they had to care about uniting the party. It was their job to wave the MAGA flag, and everyone else’s job to get in line.

This produced bizarre spectacles, like when Lake went out of her way to attack, not just the late Sen. John McCain, but any of her own potential voters who might have liked him. “We don’t have any McCain Republicans in here, do we?” Lake said at a campaign event. “Get the hell out!”

In a wave election, that sort of behavior might pay off as a triumphal assertion of who is in charge around here. With a loss, it ends up as a remarkable display of political hubris.

Andrew Egger, The End of ‘Stop the Steal’?

Voldemorting 45

“What every Republican leader knows, but few dare say out loud, is that 2022 would mark the third consecutive year that Republicans not named or tainted by Trump had a good election,” Jonathan Martin writes for Politico. “For all the affection Trump enjoys from his base, there’s a reason why it’s Democrats who are the most eager to make him the face of the GOP.”

The Morning Dispatch

Dissent

While others suggest this election was a defeat for Trump, Trumpism, and the Big Steal bullshit, the New York Times narrative makes it about America’s love of abortion together with a defense of democracy against its enemies.

I know I’m nowhere near the mainstream in many ways, and I was sufficiently inattentive to the campaign that I unwittingly early-voted for an Indiana candidate who, I learned on Election Day, is under a dark cloud. But despite the success of a few abortion-permissive post-Dobbs referenda, I’m not buying the Times narrative. It’s not absurd, but I don’t find it persuasive, either.

Politics more broadly

The GOP’s Urban failures

Young, educated urbanites in Texas are a lot like their counterparts anywhere else in the country. Imagine yourself as a high-achieving young Texan who wants to attend an elite university, graduate, move to Austin, and work at Apple. What does the Republican Party stand for that makes you feel that you belong there? Parker, the Fort Worth mayor, looks like precisely the kind of voter Republicans have an increasingly hard time reaching: a millennial woman with an elite university education, a graduate degree, and an address in a major city in what will soon be the nation’s third-largest metropolitan area.

There is good evidence that conservatives can get good things done in big cities. But, for the most part, big-city voters are not interested in Republicans.

“We’re the old man saying, ‘Get off my lawn!’” says Kevin Robnett of Fort Worth, a businessman, veteran, and longtime Republican activist. “We as a party have become anti-intellectual, and we have become anti-institution,” he continues. This has made it more difficult to connect with college-educated professionals in the cities and suburbs. “Our message is: ‘Something has been broken and you have been robbed, and things were better in the past.’ That’s our mantra now, and it is a losing vision for the entire millennial generation. They want to suck the marrow out of life. That’s why you don’t see them in offices, and they’re hard to employ. But one of the things about that generation that I really like—that we are not appealing to—is the sense that we can fix our problems, that our best days are ahead. I have an optimistic view of that generation, but our party does not.”

Worse than merely failing to sympathize with the values and aspirations of these voters, Republicans often sneer at them, denouncing the cities and the mode of life lived there as corrupt, dismissing the colleges and universities that prepare students for professional life as dens of inequity, and, increasingly, treating those at the commanding heights of business as cultural traitors. “You don’t tell a woman she’s ugly and should have made better choices and then try to get her to go out with you,” Robnett says.

Kevin D. Williamson

It can’t happen here

I didn’t read past this, but I’m inclined to agree with the top-level summary:

A MAGA America Would Be Ugly
Forget Orban’s Hungary. We’d be worse. By Paul Krugman

I’m still on the fence about whether Viktor Orban’s “illiberal democracy” is per se anathema (currently reading Karl Popper’s Open Society and Its Enemies), but I don’t think that today’s dramatis personnae on the American Right could pull it off here — with the possible exception of Ron DeSantis, who is far smarter and more thoughtful than his street-brawler looks suggest.

Culture

Good science not (necessarily) welcome here

Students are often happy to hear that there are genes for sexual orientation, but if you teach that most human personality traits, and even school achievement, have a heritable component, they start to squirm …

[I]t has become taboo in the classroom to note any disparities between groups that are not explained as the result of systemic bias.

Some grants focus almost exclusively on identity, as federal agencies, such as the National Science Foundation, now offer a surplus of grants with the purpose of “broadening the participation of members of groups that are . . . currently underrepresented”—instead of funding research to answer scientific questions.

But the field that is most directly affected is research related to humans, especially those dealing with evolution of populations.

As an example: The NIH now puts barriers to access to the important database of “Genotypes and Phenotypes (dbGaP).” The database is an amazing tool that combines genomes (the unique genetic makeup of each individual) and phenotypes (the observable characteristics of each individual) of millions of people. These phenotypes include education, occupation, health and income and, because the dataset connects genetics with phenotype at an individual level, it is essential for scientists who want to understand genes and genetic pathways that are behind those phenotypes.

The NIH now denies scientists access to this data and other related datasets. Researchers report getting permits denied on the grounds that studying their genetic basis is “stigmatizing.” According to one researcher, this happens even if the research has nothing to do with race or sex, but focuses on genetics and education.

Luana Maroja, An Existential Threat to Doing Good Science

Not with a bang but a whimper

Jeffrey Epstein accuser Virginia Giuffre, her lawyer David Boies and the disgraced financier’s former attorney Alan Dershowitz said Tuesday that they have dropped their defamation lawsuits against one another, ending a yearslong feud involving two of the nation’s best-known attorneys.

In announcing the resolution of the lawsuits, Ms. Giuffre said in a statement that she now recognizes that she might have made a mistake in identifying Mr. Dershowitz as one of her alleged abusers.

Mr. Dershowitz said in a statement Tuesday that he never had sex with Ms. Giuffre.

“I have nevertheless come to believe that at the time she accused me she believed what she said,” Mr. Dershowitz said. He added that he now believed that he was mistaken in accusing Mr. Boies of engaging in misconduct and extortion.

Defamation Lawsuits Dropped in Jeffrey Epstein Saga

Well, I’m glad that’s all — well, “cleared up” seems a bit strong.

Pro tip from someone who practiced law for 37 years and heard many jury verdicts announced: very seldom does either side feel fully vindicated and satisfied after the jury comes back.

Too typical

This is a humiliating moment. Or at least it should have been. The Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh went on Joe Rogan’s podcast and asserted that “millions” of kids have been on hormone blockers. That’s laughably absurd. There has been a spike in students identifying as genderqueer or non-binary, but millions of kids on puberty blockers?

Rogan’s team fact-checked Walsh in real time, and found that the true number of children placed on puberty blockers was less than 1,000 kids per year, out of the more than 70 million children in the United States.

[Embedded Tweet omitted]

I want to be crystal clear on where I stand. I don’t believe minor children should receive “gender-affirming” surgery or be placed on puberty blockers. States have the constitutional authority to block such treatments, and they should.

At the same time, one of the reasons why our politics has become so hysterical is constant exaggeration. Critical race theory is everywhere! Drag queens are overrunning our schools! Millions of kids are on puberty blockers!

Take something that’s bad (there are, in fact, harmful anti-racist training modules, drag shows for children are absurd, and no child should be given life-altering “gender-affirming” medical treatment) and then hype the threat. Make it pervasive. Frighten people. It’s a formula for ratings and clicks, but it’s also a formula for reactionary politics and constitutional violations. It’s a formula that heightens American polarization and contributes to pervasive anger and despair.

Walsh has cast himself as an expert on these matters. He created a documentary attacking radical gender ideology. He should know better.

David French

I am sick to death of implausible, if not outright innumerate, hyperbole from people I basically agree with.

(For what it’s worth, contra French, I’m uneasy with outright bans on “gender-affirming care” of adolescents because, even if “trans” is a social contagion, and there has been profiteering and ideological blinders at gender clinics, I’m not prepared to say that no adolescent needs such a band-aid, if only to cover the deep wound of genuine, persistent and extreme gender dysphoria.)


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Election Day 2022

I’m going to post this Monday evening though some of it is Tuesday-oriented and some (I am included) have already voted, because much if it is relevant to the impending election.

Election 2022

Worrisome

I’m old enough to remember the Beatles appearing on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and I can’t remember an election in which so many political newcomers had a serious shot at taking out established politicians of the opposite party.

Here’s the short list among the Senate races: J.D. Vance in Ohio, Herschel Walker in Georgia, Mehmet Oz in Pennsylvania, Blake Masters in Arizona, Don Bolduc in New Hampshire, Joe O’Dea in Colorado and Tiffany Smiley in Washington. They are, respectively, a venture capitalist/author, an ex-football star, a doctor/television celebrity, another venture capitalist, a retired Army general, a construction company CEO and a nurse. They’re all complete outsiders with no political experience. Their Democratic opponents, except for Pennsylvania’s John Fetterman, on the other hand are all incumbent senators or representatives. Even so, Mr. Fetterman is no rookie, having served as a small-town mayor before becoming lieutenant governor.

Gregg Opelka, GOP Outsiders Dominate the 2022 Midterms

Not just difference, but menace.

Americans are sorting themselves out by education into two roughly equal camps. As people without a college degree have flocked to the G.O.P., people with one have flocked to the Democrats.

“If Democrats can’t win in Nevada,” one Democratic pollster told Politico, “we can complain about the white working class all you want, but we’re really confronting a much broader working-class problem.” Even Black voters without a college degree seem to be shifting away from the Democrats, to some degree.

Back in those days I didn’t find a lot of class-war consciousness in my trips through red America. I compared the country to a high school cafeteria. Jocks over here, nerds over there, punks somewhere else. Live and let live.

Now people don’t just see difference, they see menace. People have put up barricades and perceive the other class as a threat to what is beautiful, true and good. I don’t completely understand why this animosity has risen over the past couple of decades, but it makes it very hard to shift the ever more entrenched socio-economic-cultural-political coalitions.

Historians used to believe that while European societies were burdened by ferocious class antagonisms, Americans had relatively little class consciousness. That has changed.

David Brooks, Why Aren’t the Democrats Trouncing the Republicans?.

I find myself in the odd position of fitting the Democrat college-educated, sushi-eating, jazz-listening, foreign-traveling profile, but rejecting both major parties ideologically. This goes back to 2005, as I’ve said before.

What has changed for me since the 2016 election is that I think I’ve apprehended the new Republican zeitgeist, so that the 2016 election of Trump no longer baffles me nearly so much.

This doesn’t mean that all is normal, all is well. The press won’t let us forget that a great many 2022 Republican candidates are unqualified and/or conscious liars about the 2020 election, but the Democrats have a good share of odd-balls, too.

It’s a very unhealthy polarization, elimination of which I’m inclined to effectuate through ranked-choice voting until I hear a better idea.

Is Democracy on the Ballot?

Sure, Americans like to complain about democracy, but they don’t want to get rid of it. Indeed, besides a handful of fringe dorks and radical fantasists, there is literally no significant constituency on the American right or left for getting rid of democracy. There are significant constituencies for bending the rules, working the refs, even rigging the system, and these constituencies should be fought relentlessly. But while often in error, most of these people believe they are on the side of democracy. The people who wildly exaggerate both voter suppression and voter fraud believe what they’re saying. They’re just wrong.

I take a backseat to no one in my contempt for both the grifters and sincere hysterics on the right who take things like Dinesh D’Souza’s 2000 Mules seriously. But even Dinesh’s carefully crafted crackpottery works on the assumption that democracy is good. Even putsch-peddlers like Michael Flynn argued for rerunning the election, because in America we believe that elections confer legitimacy for elected positions.

For all of Donald Trump’s lies about the election being stolen, his mendacious vice pays tribute to the virtue of democracy. He wants people to believe he actually won. His whole bogus pitch is premised on the idea that democracy should be restored.

Now, I should be clear. I don’t think Donald Trump gives a damn about democracy, but he knows deep in his condo salesman brain that the American people do. His attitude toward democracy is indistinguishable from his attitude toward golf and business—he sees nothing wrong with cheating, but he also wants people to believe he won fair and square.

Cheating is terrible. But there’s a difference between stealing a couple bills from the bank when playing Monopoly and saying, “Screw this game, it’s corrupt. I choose Stratego!”

Jonah Goldberg

The GOP as hostage crisis

The conservative world is, right now, largely split between two camps: the Republican establishment and the MAGA populists. Traditional Republicans still understand the importance of character, at least to some extent. Indeed many of them were proud of a perceived contrast between the Bill Clinton–led Democratic Party and a Republican Party that (once) remembered when character was king.

But now, as my Dispatch colleague Nick Catoggio writes, “The modern Republican Party is essentially a hostage crisis in which each wing could kill the party by bolting the coalition but only one wing is willing to do it and both sides know it.” The MAGA wing will stay home if its demands aren’t met. The establishment, by contrast, dutifully marches to the polls, no matter who has the “R” by their name.

David French

Politics generally

Equivalencies can be true

I find that often the equivalence is not quite as false as individuals like to think that it is. For example, we hear claims that Republicans do not support democratic norms. If someone mentions Abrams as a counter-example then one would be hit with the false equivalency charge. But a recent poll shows that resistance to democratic norms among Democrats is not less common than it is for Republicans …

Many commenters on the left state that politically inspired violence is a problem on the right. Pointing out the attack on Scalise only gets you an accusation of false equivalency. Yet this same poll tells a different story. Democrats are more supportive of politically inspired protesting without a permit (36.6% to 31.6%), vandalism (8.1% to 3.6%), assault (3.5% to 1.1%) arson (2.1% to .9%), assault with a deadly weapon (2.1% to .8%) and murder (1.6% to .1%) than Republicans. It is easy to make the case that attitudes supportive of political violence are much more of a problem on the left than on the right.

But let’s admit that there are times when conservatives are more in the wrong than progressives. Is that still justification to run behind a false equivalency argument to ignore the sins on the left? It is not. A society where men are allowed to hit their wives is better than a society where men are allowed to kill their wives. However, they should not hide behind arguments of false equivalency to avoid the obvious problem that they should not be hitting their wives.

George Yancey, The Problem with False Equivalency Claims

The de-Baathification of the GOP

[H]ere’s the thing for Democrats: There will be no de-Baathification of the Republican Party.

The “reckoning” for which many Democrats and some Republicans have yearned for years—the one in which Trump is ruined and all of the toadies who drooled on his golf shoes will either also be ruined or forced to come begging for forgiveness—is not to be. That’s not to say that Trump might not one day be ruined or that many who once sported red hats with pride will quietly abjure their MAGA membership. It’s just that these things don’t happen all at once.

Almost half of the Republicans in the Senate voted against censuring Sen. Joe McCarthy in 1954 after the Wisconsin red baiter drove one of his fellow senators to suicide with blackmail over the senator’s son’s homosexuality. Out of 206 Democrats in the House in 1998, only five could bring themselves to vote to impeach Bill Clinton for lying and obstructing justice to conceal his assignations with a 21-year-old White House intern, offenses he had obviously committed. It took decades in both cases for the parties to come to terms with what partisanship had blinded them to.

If the GOP ever comes back to being interested in governing again, it will come a little bit at a time.

Chris Stirewalt, Dems Face a Test After Tuesday

The wrongness of Roe

If Dobbs has shown us anything, it is the limited usefulness of constitutional theory to the pro-life movement. The future of the cause will require sustained engagement with the questions of biology and metaphysics upon which the anti-abortion position has always depended, questions that lie outside politics in the conventional sense of the word. Legal thinking is by nature unsuited for such efforts — and perhaps even corrosive to them.

Matthew Walther in the New York Times

As an attorney (albeit retired), I will not apologize for long considering the reversal of Roe v. Wade a good to be sought in and of itself, regardless of what state legislatures subsequently would do on the topic of abortion. In this, I’m not so much arguing with Walther as pointing out that there is more than one perspective on the wrongness of Roe.

Claremont Institute’s diagnosis

I listened recently to an episode of the podcast Know Your Enemy, a couple of articulate young lefties putting American conservatism under the microscope, and I think they helped me figure out what the heck has gone wrong with the Claremont Institute.

The Claremont Institute is broadly “Straussian,” but its “West Coast Straussianism” differs from “East Coast Straussianism.” One way it differs is its valorization of Thumos. That may at least partially explain grotesqueries like Michael Anton’s 2016 Flight 93 Election and Claremont’s continuing favorable orientation toward Orange Man.

Twitter

This is Marx on Twitter. Any questions?

Twitter used to be owned by someone from a particular economic class, and should [Elon] Musk get tired of his new toy he’ll sell it to people from that same class. What I’m complaining about in the essay is not that Musk is being criticized but rather that the criticism leaves off the hook the rest of the ownership class that previously owned Twitter, such as the Saudis. (That is, an autocratic theocracy that beheads people for being gay.) The basic contention of the essay is that Marxist class analysis teaches us that the ownership class as a class is our enemy, and that moralizing about individual members of that ownership class is not a Marxist project. That he is the world’s wealthiest person does little to distinguish himself from the rest of the ownership class, and nothing to change the basic class analysis; he’s no better but not particularly any worse.

Freddie deBoer

On leaving Twitter

While a denizen of Twitter, I prided myself on never having retweeted that picture of the shark swimming down the street during a hurricane, or, for the most part, any of its text equivalents. I don’t think my own mind ever got poisoned, in other words, but I did see minds poisoned. (‘Who goes redpill?’ is an article I would like to read someday.) The thing is that on Twitter there’s always a hurricane, and a shark is always swimming toward you through its chum-filled waters. Repeatedly batting it on the nose takes effort, and is that how you want to spend your one and only life?

Caleb Crain via Alan Jacobs

Culture

How we think

[P]erceptual and pictorial shapes are not only translations of thought products but the very flesh and blood of thinking itself.

Rudolf Arnheim, Visual Thinking, via Iain McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

The delusions delivered by ideologies

[A]ll ideologies seek to do the impossible. Which is to contain the uncontainable cosmos in rational, propositional thought in order to fix it …

The theoretical models we create can never—will never— actually match the unspeakable and unsayable fullness of reality, no matter how powerful our computers become, or thorough our thinking. The map can never be the territory—it is as simple as that. This is even more true with those aspects of reality that actually matter, that actually means something to us, e.g., Love, Meaning, Beauty, God, etc. Instead, this impulse focuses on simple systems it can somewhat model and reduces everything to that. Yet this simple-minded approach is what humans have been trying to do for some 500 years or more. It has in some ways worked wonders, but in those wonders, it has created disasters—disasters both psychological, political, and ecological.

This habit of control is built into the way we have been taught to think, be and move into the institutions that are supposedly charged with our well-being. As this becomes clearer, however murky, we try to hide from it2. Since this reductive/abstracted way of relating to the world is what we know because it is what we have been taught, the more we seek to swerve from the catastrophe the more we steer into. We are trying to solve the problem by the same means that got us into it in the first place. Even those who see the problem most clearly are hardly immune from this blindness. To engage with reality differently is now a struggle against ourselves, given the current state of affairs. We need to start from a very different kind of beginning.

Jack Leahy, Where Two or Three are Gathered: On the 12-Steps and Forming Anarcho-Contemplative Community

Or more succinctly:

Let me keep my distance, always, from those
who think they have the answers.

Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.

Mary Oliver, Evidence: Poems


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox “phronema” [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

Friday, 11/4/22

Culture

Doomed, but not gloomy

The Cult of the New rides forward victorious on nearly every front. So, this country I still love is, nevertheless, one that exasperates me. I have no shortage of ideas about just how we have arrived at our present juncture, as well as having some pretty settled notions about where it is all headed. And I do not think there is much we can do about it. Perhaps a different people could do so. Just not us. Things will chug along, until they don’t.

There’s no need to be gloomy about it, however. I agree with John Lukacs, who wrote: So living during the decline of the West—and being much aware of it—is not at all that hopeless and terrible. Indeed, what an exciting time to be alive today! But you have to turn much of the noise off to see this, I think. For example, I tend to avoid any headlines containing the words Arizona, Texas, Florida, Election, or Guns. It should be obvious; these are distractions that keep us from seeing the real story. Accordingly, I no longer worry that half of our citizenry have chosen to believe a fantasy. Over our history, incredibly, we’ve fallen for worse and larger ones. And who can tell what the other half believes, if anything.

Terry Cowan, Another Story to Tell: A Stone for Uncle Charles.

Terry starts roughly where I do, albeit with better academic credentials for doomsaying. For me, it’s less the “cult of the new” and more “how many warnings of divine judgment can we blow off?”, starting most explicitly with 9/11.

His tools for avoiding gloom are exemplary, even if I still indulge too much in ephemera.

Phobias

No … sexism, homophobia, transphobia ….

Some of the rules of a Social Medium I won’t be joining because this -phobia suffix is tribalist contempt disguised as psychological diagnosis. I’m not sure I belong to a tribe, but if I do, it’s not that one.

(It’s not easy running a social medium, though …)

Sells like hotcakes

Nothing sells so well as anger and resentment. Anger moved people to burn other people at the stake, whereas hope is the stuff of Get Well Soon cards that we pitch in the trash. Hope is a cup of chamomile tea; resentment is a double bourbon.

Garrison Keillor

Penguin Random House

You have, no doubt, read about the open letter published by employees of Penguin Random House urging the publisher to rescind its $2 million book contract with Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. The employees are “deeply concerned about free speech,” they write, but you can’t use free speech to “destroy . . . rights,” and killing children is an international human right, which makes people like Amy Coney Barrett oh so very bad. The letter has received over 600 signatures so far.

Micah Mattix.

Those 600 signatures include some smart people subscribing some very stupid ideas.

So far, Penguin Random House stands resolute.

Equal Rights for distaff assassins

The two attempted assassinations of Gerald Ford came only 17 days apart, and both would-be assassins were women. Perhaps we should for that reason consider September of 1975 the apex of American feminism, a fortnight and change in which American women finally proved that they had it in them to be as insane and violent as American men.

Kevin D. Williamson

Gaining clarity

I had some thoughts in the cave. Some things settled in me, others clarified themselves. It became clearer what path I was walking, and what it meant. It doesn’t take much time in the woods for clarity to emerge. I have always found this. The peace that passeth all understanding is always available there. The kingdom of God is within us, but the world – the human world – is designed to drown it out. The world and the Earth are not the same thing. God sings in every fibre of the Earth, but we build the world to face in the other direction. We have to die to the world to listen to the Earth. The peace is in the stream running, in the mist wreathing the crags, the growling of the rooks, the squirrel watching from the hazel bough. The voice is in the silence. The silence is easily washed away by what we think we want.

Paul Kingsnorth, having spent the night of his 50th birthday in the cave of a Celtic Saint.

Politics

The battleground of demons

In a piece for The Spectator, David Marcus urges his fellow travelers on the right to be better than unfounded Paul Pelosi conspiracy theories. “Some on the right say that promoting baseless speculation is just fighting fire with fire, that we need to play this game too. Nothing could play more completely into the hands of the far left,” he writes. “This is a battleground of progressives’ choosing. They want a news environment in which nothing is real, everything is partisan and you are free to ignore and even disdain the other side. If conservatives adopt these despicable tactics, they will lose the war for our culture and society before a shot is even fired. You beat conspiracy theories with truth and facts, not by inventing more and more disgusting conspiracy theories of your own.”

The Morning Dispatch.

I’m not onboard with the idea that shit-posting and conspiracy theories are the “battleground of progressives’ choosing.” I’d locate it as in demonic, not progressive, territory.

Our 44th White President

As Obama’s mother was white, it seems to me he has as much claim to being white as to being black. He could be the first black president, but he has equal claim to being the forty-fourth white one. Racial morphology does not matter. That is so nineteenth century. The most radical thing he can do is claim to be white. Or is it that he can only be an authentic black man but an inauthentic white one? What kind of racism is that? Are we still operating under the whites’ ‘one-drop’ rule, still living by the whites’ rules of what we are or what we can be? Why should I jump up and down about that?

Gerald Early in Hedgehog Review, on his response to a white friend who called him the day after President Obama’s election in 2008.

Celebrity losers

In the early 2000s, the Japanese racehorse Haru Urara became something of an international celebrity. This was not because of her prowess on the track. Just the opposite: Haru Urara had never won a race. She was famous not for winning but for losing. And the longer her losing streak stretched, the more famous she grew. She finished her career with a perversely pristine record: zero wins, 113 losses.

American politics doesn’t have anyone quite like Haru Urara. But it does have Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams. The two Democrats are among the country’s best known political figures, better known than almost any sitting governor or U.S. senator. And they have become so well known not by winning big elections but by losing them.

… Abrams and O’Rourke … are perhaps the two greatest exponents of a peculiar phenomenon in American politics: that of the superstar loser.

Jacob Stern, Democrats Keep Falling for ‘Superstar Losers’

Oopsy!

The White House deleted a tweet that attributed the increase in Social Security checks next year to President Biden’s leadership after critics pointed out that the cost-of-living adjustment, the highest in four decades, was a result of high inflation

Wall Street Journal on Twitter.

Barbarian Tribalism

I don’t want to live in a country where it’s normal to ask, even subconsciously, “Was the victim a Democrat?” before deciding whether to be angry, outraged, or compassionate.

Jonah Goldberg

You must vote for me; it’s the only democratic choice

With just days until the midterms, President Joe Biden delivered another speech last night about the state of American democracy, arguing its continuation is on the ballot next week. Josh Barro didn’t like it. “The message makes no sense on its face,” he writes in his latest newsletter. “When Democrats talk about ‘democracy,’ they’re talking about the importance of institutions that ensure the voters get a say among multiple choices and the one they most prefer gets to rule. But they are also saying voters do not get to do that in this election. The message is that there is only one party contesting this election that is committed to democracy—the Democrats—and therefore only one real choice available. If voters reject Democrats’ agenda or their record on issues including inflation, crime, and immigration (or abortion, for that matter), they have no recourse at the ballot box—they simply must vote for Democrats anyway, at least until such time as the Republican Party is run by the likes of Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger. This amounts to telling voters that they have already lost their democracy.”

The Morning Dispatch.

This is the sort of incoherence that arises when “democracy” is ill-defined. Mind you, I’m not unsympathetic to Republicans who think this is a year to presume voting Democrat. I’m not even unsympathetic to the idea that the GOP, with its calculated takeover of offices that supervise elections and its pushing the damnable and incoherent “Independent State Legislature” theory, is a genuine threat to Democracy.

I can recall no election in my 74 years when I was less enthused to vote at all.


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

You can read most of my more impromptu stuff here (cathartic venting) and here (the only social medium I frequent, because people there are quirky, pleasant and real). Both should work in your RSS aggregator, like Feedly or Reeder, should you want to make a habit of it.

November 1, 2022

Pilgrimage

I’m almost fully readjusted to my home time zone after almost two weeks 7 hours to the East.

My overall “secular” impression of my past two weeks in the Holy Land: if you really want to see a lot of authentic sites, important to the historic (i.e., pre-Reformation) Church, bring good shoes, socks (a pair of Ecco walkers and a second of Mephistos, worn with Wright Socks, kept me blister-free, but didn’t prevent mildly turned ankles), walking stick, and be prepared to walk over a lot of very uneven rubble and pavers that have heaved over 1500-2000 years. Even the Church of Anastasis (a/k/a Holy Sepulchre) isn’t entirely safe for those, like me, of unsteady gait and poor balance.

Also, don’t miss the sacred sites in current Jordan, which astonished me in how successful it has been chasing Mammon. (It feels surprisingly like the U.S., especially in Amman.)

Oh yeah: everybody seems to smoke almost everywhere.

And I’m ready to eat me more pig.

As for the religious impression, words fail me. I got on this trip a strenuous Christian pilgrimage. “Pilgrimage” sadly was not my experience on a prior trip, which had a much different emphasis than vereration of holy places. In contrast, we had an appropriate Gospel reading at site after site. We attended a very early-morning Orthodox Christian liturgy a few feet away from the birthplace of Christ in the crypt of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and a Sunday liturgy at the Tomb of the Theotokos. I venerated the place where Christ’s body lay for three days before He rose from the dead at the Church of the Resurrection (a/k/a Church of the Holy Sepulchre).

An unexpected stunner was an exhibition on the Shroud of Turin. I followed the Shroud just enough to have come around to a presumption that it was authentic. But someone took all the marks on the shroud, showing the multiple flogging/flaying wounds on He whom it had wrapped, and created a bronze figure:


If someone can find words adequate to that, they are better wordsmiths than I am.

I’m glad I went, but I fear that age has caught up with me to the point that I’ll not go again.

I’ll probably post more pictures when I get them sorted out.

Sensible change

England’s National Health Service outlined a new clinical approach earlier this month, issuing an interim service specification that says most pre-pubescent children experiencing gender incongruence—feeling their gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex—are experiencing a phase that “does not persist into adolescence.” The NHS announced plans to close the United Kingdom’s only gender-identity clinic dedicated to children this summer after an independent review found problems including insufficient record-keeping and an “unquestioning affirmative approach.” It will stand up regional centers instead, but reportedly will take a more cautious tack when treating minors’ gender dysphoria and ban the use of puberty blockers in minors outside of clinical trials.

The Morning Dispatch

Attacking with whatever’s handy at the moment

I will first go back to before the Ukrainian crisis to the election of Donald Trump in 2016 as an example of what I mean. Many people recall John McCain saying, “Russia is a gas station masquerading as a country.” President Barack Obama, in his last press conference as President, said Russia could not “change or significantly weaken the U.S..” He said compared to the U.S., “Russia is a smaller and weaker country.” He continued that Russia doesn’t produce anything anyone wants except gas, oil, and arms.

These kinds of statements were what one typically heard about Russia in those days. Russia’s economy was said to be no bigger than that of the state of Texas, and its GDP was miniscule.

Yet, after Donald Trump was elected President, we were told, “Russia did it.” It was as if Putin directed the election of the president of the United States from his Kremlin office. How does a man whom they had said runs a small, weak, “gas station” kind of country control the results of the election of someone to the highest office in the country that claims to be the most powerful on earth? Now, the Mueller Report indicated there was no proof that Russia interfered, but my point is that we had been hearing how weak, small, and economically insignificant Russia was, and then almost all of the mainstream press quickly turned and joined the politicians who said Russia had covertly changed the course of American history. If one holds to both those understandings of Russia some explanation is definitely needed. Otherwise, this is cognitive dissonance on a national level.

Hal Freeman, lightly reformatted.

A marriage that cannot last

[T]here is a fundamental incoherence in an alliance that requires affirmation of the gender binary in the L, the G, and the B whilst emphatically denying it in the T and Q.

Carl Trueman

Affirmative action

The old-style defenders of racial double standards still say they aren’t racist.  Since racial double standards are by definition racist, that’s been a hard line to peddle.  The new line is that they are racist, but in a good way:  Because only racism against whites can remedy the effects of past racism against blacks.

Since this view is relentlessly drummed into the ears of the young – and since few of them have ever been taught the ancient doctrine that justice is giving to each person what is due to him, or the sacred principle that we may never do evil for the sake of good results — perhaps it is not surprising that many of my students find the theory of good racism plausible.

J Budziszewski

Marriage in America

Gay marriage is a luxury good in our society, largely the province of professional men and women. Meanwhile, among Americans without college degrees, marriage is collapsing.

Public health officials scratch their heads, trying to explain the extraordinary decline in life expectancy in the United States, a shocking trend for a country so rich. Their captivity to progressive ideology makes them invincibly ignorant. They cannot acknowledge the obvious truth, which is that isolated, disoriented individuals deprived of the norms that would guide them toward marriage and family have dim prospects. They are more likely to stumble through life and engage in self-destructive behavior.

R.R. Reno

Intelligence, thoughtfulness, and the career they foreclose

The woke takeover of the establishment is so complete that “if you are an intelligent and thoughtful young American, you cannot be a progressive public intellectual today, any more than you can be a cavalry officer or silent movie star.” Every thought on the left is scripted, monitored, and policed. As Lyons observes, “In contrast with this oppressive decadence . . . the dialectic of the countercultural Right crackles with irreverence and intellectual possibility.”

N.S. Lyons Lyons citing Michael Lind and quoted by R.R. Reno


[S]ubordinating truth to politics is a game which tyrants and bullies always win.

Jonathan Rauch, The Constitution of Knowledge

The Orthodox "phronema" [roughly, mind-set] cannot be programmitized or reduced to shibboleths.

Fr. Jonathan Tobias

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